Schools collect attendance every day. It is a basic measure that creates common ground across districts in every corner of the United States. But when most schools track attendance, they look at the average daily attendance rate – how many students are in school on any given day?
In Texas, the P16 Plus Council of Greater Bexar County is helping districts think about this data differently. P16 Plus unites organizations across the public, private and nonprofit sectors to work collectively toward improving student achievement in the Greater San Antonio region.
A key component in the P16 Plus effort to improve early reading outcomes has been to get schools to look beyond average daily attendance, according to P16 Plus Data Director Ginger Walker.
“That can hide the fact that your students making up the 5-6% not there on a daily basis are often the same students,” Walker said.
San Antonio Kids Attend to Win started during the 2011-12 school year with a pilot in kindergarten and pre-kindergarten at 12 elementary schools. Since then it has expanded to include 57 campuses across all grade levels and four school districts. Last year’s data, from more than 6,000 students at 47 campuses showed 45% of all absences came from students who were chronically absent – missing one-tenth of school days or more. These chronically absent students made up just 15% of the whole school population, but 39% of students who got suspended.
The SA Kids Attend to Win campaign focuses on education and outreach to get kids to school every day. At the elementary level, this can mean raising awareness among parents about the importance of daily attendance. In high schools, mentorship programs are engaging students directly and urging them to show up every day.
Coda Rayo-Garza, director of community partnerships at P16 Plus, said every intervention is personalized by school, based on the characteristics of the student and parent population. Some schools have reduced chronic absenteeism through home visiting programs and phone calls home.
“There’s the variety component,” Rayo-Garza said. “What works on one campus in one part of town doesn’t necessarily work at another.”
One unifying element of the individual SA Kids Attend to Win interventions, though, is the concept of incentivizing progress. Students and parents should be working toward a goal, and when they reach it, they deserve something that acknowledges their effort.
“More than a best practice, I think this should be a standard,” Rayo-Garza said.
So far, the program has had an impact. Each school identifies students who are already missing 10% of school days by the end of October. They become the pool of chronically absent students toward which the interventions are directed.
In 2015-16, 41% of students labeled as chronically absent at the beginning of the year moved out of that category by the end of the year. And 65% of chronically absent students improved their attendance rates, contributing to higher pass rates on the state reading test. While only 55% of chronically absent students who didn’t improve their attendance throughout the year passed the state third grade reading test, 60% of those who did improve passed.
And Walker noted the improved attendance alone accounted for $1.27 million extra dollars for the school districts in state funding based on daily attendance.
Texas is among the states paying closer attendance to chronic absenteeism since federal data from 2013-14 was released this past fall, highlighting the scope of the problem for the first time. State officials are including chronic absenteeism among four domains that will count toward a school’s overall accountability rating under its new system.
“The state has come to see the links our team has been making for a while now between chronic absenteeism and academic success,” Walker said.
Beyond San Antonio, Waterbury, CT, Albuquerque, NM, Thornton, CO, and Austin, TX, are all working to boost attendance and, in turn, raise achievement. They are all connected through a national StriveTogether Impact and Improvement Network. Waterbury, like San Antonio, is focusing on the impact of improved attendance on reading, while the other communities are tracking its connection to high school graduation rates.
All of these efforts represent a clear example of using data districts already collect to develop school improvement strategies. And with new accountability plans being developed across the country that link attendance with academic outcomes, these strategies are bound to catch on even more widely.